The Role of Pharmaceutical Companies in the UK and the Challenges They Face


A pharmaceutical company is a licensed commercial business actively involved in the research, discovery, development, marketing, and distribution of new medicines/drugs (Milanesi, Runfola, and Guercini, 2020). These medicines which they deal with are brand and/or generic medications. The research and drug discovery and development process is a cost-intensive process, which has resulted in pharmaceutical companies committing vast resources to their research and development. A multi-billion-dollar global industry, the pharmaceutical industry is currently one of the most influential and profitable industries in the world- this has led to it attracting both praise and criticism or controversy in an almost equal measure (Milanesi, Runfola, and Guercini, 2020). Therefore, this essay aims to explore the pharmaceutical industry in the UK and the role it plays, and the problems it faces.

The Pharmaceutical Industry in the UK and Its Role


The pharmaceutical industry is a critical sector in the UK, with statistics showing that the pharmaceutical goods wholesalers in the UK recorded an annual turnover of £51 billion in 2019 (Topic: Pharmaceutical industry in the UK, 2021). There were about 670 pharmaceutical companies in 2019. Accounting for 2.5% of the pharmaceutical industry worldwide, the UK is one of the world’s top 10 pharmaceutical, national markets. As of 2018, pharmaceutical companies in the UK's investment in research and development accounted for 35% of the pharma manufacturing sales (Topic: Pharmaceutical industry in the UK, 2021). The pharmaceutical industry is also a significant contributor to the country’s economy. It employs about 50,000 people in pharma preparations and manufacturing alone, and that British consumers spent about £11 million on pharmaceutical products (Topic: Pharmaceutical industry in the UK, 2021). AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline, which are the two flagship companies of the British pharmaceutical industries, are also among the largest and most popular in the country and globally. Others include Allen & Hunsbary Ltd, Bayer plc, GE Healthcare, Johnson and Johnson, Nestle UK Ltd, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Sanofi Aventis Ltd, among others.

Besides their core function of discovering and developing new medicines, pharmaceutical companies also play a key role in advocating and ensuring that the various categories of patients receive access to excellent scientific advancements and quality care. Through their continuous innovation and production of new innovative treatments, the pharmaceutical industry contributes to helping people live healthier and longer lives (No Prescription Drug Manufacturers Association, 2021a). The pharmaceutical industry is also seen to play an essential role concerning; the increase of life expectancy, the eradication and elimination of diseases, reduction of pain and suffering (through not only the curing of various conditions, but also the management of side-effects, symptoms, or pain associated with other treatments, thereby relieving discomfort), and cost-saving (No Prescription Drug Manufacturers Association, 2021b). The vaccines that pharmaceutical companies develop help save millions of lives and contribute to saving money since vaccination is a cost-effective public health intervention that reduces healthcare spending and prevents productivity loss. The innovative medicines they develop also help save money by promoting quicker recovery and reducing the length of hospital stays.

Among the key challenges facing pharmaceutical companies relates to problems in the development of new antibiotics. While previously, new medicine discovery was a random process that heavily relied on science and chance in equal measure, the emergence of new technologies has changed the process from a random one to precise science (Durant, 2001). That has resulted in the need for pharmaceutical companies to increase their investments in technological advancements to discover and develop new medicines. Additionally, the emergence of antibiotic-resistant infections has rendered some of the previously potent antibiotics less effective, leading to the calls for new and completely different antibiotics. As a result, pharmaceutical industries have been forced to invest in the research and development of new antibiotics and treatment therapies, which poses several challenges due to the substantial risk they carry (Durant, 2001). For example, the research and discovery of antibiotics require intensive investment and innovation in a medical setting that would require limited use of antibiotics.

Additionally, very few (just 250 out of every 5,000-10,000) compounds that the pharmaceutical industry tests get to the animal-testing phase, only five reach human clinical trials, and just one gets approval for sale in the market (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, 2000). Pharmaceutical companies also face challenges when it comes to meeting and complying with regulatory and legal requirements. For instance, the need to design clinical trials that meet regulatory requirements is often a challenge due to the multiple recruitment obstacles that arise following the requirement that a trial for new antibiotics or treatment interventions should be designed in a manner that it acts against multiple pathogens Van den Bogaert et al., 2018). Overcoming these challenges is a key problem that results in pharmaceutical companies taking multiple approaches that will ultimately enable them to deliver successful products into the market, although at increasingly high investment costs.

Other challenges facing the industry include: reduced demand for pharmaceuticals due to reduced consumer confidence and other factors such as unemployment that lowers the purchasing power; increased competition from generic pharmaceutical- that could potentially result in big/major pharmaceuticals losing to those that develop generic medicines at lower prices; cyber security threats- the pharmaceutical industry, due to its possession and use of large volumes of valuable consumer and other data, is vulnerable to data breaches and cyberattacks making it the 4th most-affected industry after healthcare, energy and finance; and supply chain disruptions (European Pharmaceutical Review, 2021). This has led to the need to increase their cyber security investments to prevent the risk of a costly data breach.

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Overall, pharmaceutical companies in the UK, as in the rest of the world, play a key role in helping patients, society, and the country’s economy. They discover and develop medicines and treatment interventions that cure diseases and save lives, thereby increasing life expectancy, creating jobs, and fueling the country’s economy and the world. As such, the pharmaceutical industry is an important sector that will potentially continue to establish its significance in the world now and in the future.


  • Durrant, C., 2001. The responsibility of the pharmaceutical industry. Clinical Microbiology and Infection, 7, pp.2-4.
  • European pharmaceutical review. 2021. Six major risks facing pharmaceutical manufacturers in 2021. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 November 2021].
  • Milanesi, M., Runfola, A. and Guercini, S., 2020. Pharmaceutical industry riding the wave of sustainability: Review and opportunities for future research. Journal of Cleaner Production, 261, p.121204.
  • No Prescription Drug Manufacturers Association. 2021. Why are pharmaceutical companies so important?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 November 2021].
  • 2021. Why are pharmaceutical companies so important?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 November 2021].
  • Statista. 2021. Topic: Pharmaceutical industry in the UK. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 November 2021].
  • Van den Bogaert, S., Declercq, J., Christiaens, T., Jacobs, G. and Bracke, P., 2018. In the land of pharma: A qualitative analysis of the reputational discourse of the pharmaceutical industry. Public Relations Inquiry, 7(2), pp.127-147.
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